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South Bay Beaches in Danger of Losing Lifeguard Services

March 17, 1994|JAMES BENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The County Board of Supervisors drew a line in the sand this week over funding for lifeguards on South Bay beaches.

The board voted 4 to 1 to pull lifeguards off seven state beaches, including Manhattan and Redondo, this summer if local agencies do not pay more money for the county services.

The county is facing a $900-million budget deficit. Officials will give the state formal notice that it can no longer afford to provide any lifeguard services to state beaches after July 1. Funds spent for cleaning beaches also would be pulled.

Lifeguard services on six city-owned beaches, including Hermosa Beach, Avalon and Torrance, could be pulled on April 1, 1995.

The county Beaches and Harbors Department, which hires lifeguards for the beaches owned by the state, cities or county, is facing a $1.3-million budget shortfall and has requested an increase in funding from South Bay beach cities.

City councils in Manhattan and Redondo have balked at those requests, saying only a fraction of area beach users reside in their cities, and citing concern over the future of county demands for more money.

The county hopes city and state officials will attend a public hearing to discuss possible resolutions to the matter, said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Beaches and Harbors Department. A hearing has not been scheduled.

County Supervisor Deane Dana, who represents the South Bay beach cities, voted against cutting off lifeguard services.

"It's truly a matter of public safety," said Don Knabe, a spokesman for Dana. "You can't just leave the beaches blank."

The county pays $1.8 million a year to operate Manhattan Beach, one of Southern California's busiest beaches. The city contributes about $220,000 a year, which it collects from parking meters.

"It's real unfortunate that it's gotten to this," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano. "We want to cooperate but I haven't seen any long-term plan that guarantees what services our money would provide us."

Napolitano said he is confident that the state will protect Manhattan and other state-owned beaches if the county pulls out. State officials could not be reached for comment.

The county pays $603,000 annually for services in the state-owned portion of Redondo Beach. The council voted against boosting the city's annual contribution from $140,000 to $200,000 in January.

Barring an agreement with the county, Redondo Beach officials will consider a variety of options, including city operation of lifeguard services, said City Manager Bill Kirchhoff.

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